Former cop-turned-law student campaigns on building parks, retaining firefighters
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
"As a former first responder, I know how important it is that first responders stay within our city."
A few things to know about Knox Anderson, candidate for Ocoee’s City Commission in District 2: at 6-foot, 4-inches and 36-years old, he is both the tallest and youngest candidate in this year’s municipal elections. Florida born, Anderson comes from one of those families that can trace their lineage back to the Revolutionary War.
Now married, Anderson has a family of his own: a 2-year-old daughter plus two mixed-breed dogs. Three years ago they all settled down in Ocoee. (“I’ve never felt more at home anywhere else in Florida than I do in Ocoee.” he says.)
Before venturing into politics, Anderson spent 11 years in law enforcement, as a state trooper, detective, task force agent and one of Maitland’s Finest, patrolling his hometown. (“My parents still live there, and they loved having me around in uniform,” he says.) He recently left the force to start law school at Barry University. And that’s after earning two bachelors degrees and a masters from University of Central Florida.
But on a warm afternoon, Anderson took a brief break from contracts law and campaigning to meet me under a shady tree in Bill Breeze Park to talk about how to stop Ocoee from losing its fire fighters, building more green spaces, and how running for commissioner is kinda like an Iron Man.
Norine Dworkin: You did an Iron Man. That’s amazing. You are probably the fittest candidate I’ve interviewed!
Knox Anderson: I did the Houston Iron Man Texas in 2018. I finished with about four minutes to spare on the clock. One of my friends, was also my coach, kept telling me, “Forward is a pace.” She kept telling me that during my run. “Forward is a pace.” I kept going. I couldn’t walk the next day. But I finished.
ND: How do you think your Iron Man experience informs your run for city commission?
KA: One of the biggest things I learned through my training is the importance of scheduling and perseverance. You spend a lot of time on the bike; you spend a lot of time running; you spend a lot of time in the water; and you only have 16 hours to be awake in a day. So it’s all about schedule and follow-through. You might not want to get up at five in the morning to go on a 20-mile bike ride, or a 100-mile bike ride as it gets closer to Iron Man. But to finish, you need to. It’s all about perseverance. Mind over matter. Your body, at the end, says you can’t do it. You have to convince yourself that you can. After studying for law school all day, I might not want to get up and call people or knock on doors or work on the website, but I need to.
ND: What is your platform for the city of Ocoee?
KA: Parks, communication, and quality of life. With parks, Bill Breeze Park is a great example of some of the fantastic park land we have in Ocoee. It’s a great open area, and it’s used very well in terms of what there is access to. During Covid-19, people have rediscovered how amazing it is to be outdoors. Especially as Ocoee is growing, adding more parks and introducing more open areas for individuals is the best way to get everyone outside. I’d also like to explore our current parks to see if their spaces are being used appropriately. Montgomery Park is right next to my house. It has a large open field similar to Bill Breeze’s with a playground and future dog run attached to it. But maybe a quarter of the field is being utilized for sport purposes. The other three-quarters just sits there. I’d like to find ways to better utilize it. Like, it has a backstop for baseball so maybe we put a baseball diamond out there.
ND: Okay, next issue.
KA: We’re having an issue with firefighters leaving Ocoee. I’ve spoken to individuals within our fire department and, from what I understand, we’ve lost 40 percent of our firefighters within a three-year period. That’s a hard number to lose. The culture inside the fire department is fantastic. Everyone likes working there. What they’re looking at is pay. The reason they’re leaving is they can get a massive raise or reimbursement for their paramedic certification by going to other cities. We can’t afford to pay like Orlando or Winter Park but we can encourage people to stay by making our salaries competitive and looking at incentives.
One of the issues is when you’re hired on as a firefighter you start as a firefighter/EMT, but you are mandated to get a paramedic certification within two years. The city doesn’t reimburse for that, and that’s $7,000-$12,000 right out of your pocket. If you don’t get it within two years, they can fire you. When I hear the word “mandate” in terms of government stuff like that, the onus should be on the city of Ocoee to reimburse, especially since there is a pay increase attached to becoming a paramedic. I think it’s about $8,000, so there are funds allocated for it. Let’s reimburse those individuals to encourage them to stay. It’s expensive to constantly train and recruit. When you have such a high turnover in the fire department, you’re not building a good base of individuals that know the city.
ND: And your next issue … communication.
KA: As a law enforcement officer, I spent time as a public information officer, so I learned the importance of communication. I’d like to see the city use all of its avenues of communication. Right now, if you want to find out about the downtown project there is a website, but in order to find out where each individual project stage is at, you have to click on each link. There’s no master link showing you We’re at this stage … We’re looking at this stage … This stage is next.
If you’re driving through downtown and you have five minutes on your lunch break to find out what’s going on down there, it’s going to take you that long to navigate to each individual page. No one goes to the second page of Google search results. So the burden is on us to communicate appropriately.
I want to communicate what the city is up to. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the city, and they just want to know what’s going on. Not everyone can attend city commission meetings. You can go onto the city website and find the agenda for the city commission meetings, but no one really has time to dig through that. I would love to do an email newsletter as a city commissioner saying This is what we voted on. This is what it’s going to impact. That’s part of civic engagement.
Plus, we need to expand our communication methods. There are so many ways to communicate now. As a 36-year-old Millennial, one of the ways my generation consumes news is Twitter. We don’t read newspapers. We don’t use Facebook anymore. So you need to look at how we can communicate. Ocoee has a youth council, maybe one of the ways the youth council gets its information out is through TikTok. Having information readily available makes for an informed populace.
ND: It’s important that government reflect and represent its community. City commission committees and boards are appointed by commissioners. What will you do to increase diversity in making those appointments?
KA: We need to get out there and communicate with our residents. We need to find out where they are and what’s important to them. Ocoee has a plethora of boards available. And many of them don’t need appointments. Like the Ocoee Police Advisory Board. You sign up and volunteer. Getting out and engaging people and showing them, Hey, your voice counts! Let’s get you on this board. It goes back to communication. I’m here to listen. I want you to tell me what’s important about Ocoee. When people come to me and say, This is what I’d like to change, I’m a big believer in getting them on the board to fix it.
ND: The pandemic is ongoing. Businesses are open. Caseloads are rising. Vaccines are coming but there are numerous virus variants and infectious disease specialists are concerned that the virus is already developing resistance to the vaccine faster than anticipated. What can be done at the town council level to protect the citizens of Ocoee?
KA: A large part of being in a public position of authority is setting an example for people to follow. If elected commissioner, I’d make sure I follow the rules: social distance, wear a mask, constant hand washing. People are going to look to you for an example. And it’s important to provide a great example. There are a bunch of news stories about mayors and governors who’ve stated one thing and immediately done something else, and unfortunately that eats away at trust. If you’re going to talk the talk you’re going to have to walk the walk. Show the public This is serious, I believe it’s serious, and these are the steps I’m taking to ensure my safety as well as your safety. I learned from law enforcement that there’s always someone with a camera. The moment you slip up, that’s the moment everyone’s going to see. You need to set high standards and follow them.
ND: What would you say are the biggest issues facing Ocoee right now?
KA: I’ve met with with the local department heads to gain an idea of where we’re going. I love Ocoee. This city is growing. And it’s up to all of the residents, including city commissioners, to make sure we grow in a safe and sustained manner.
The biggest issue Ocoee will face is to make sure we have sustainable growth. A lot of cities have said Yes to growth without thinking five, 10 years down the road. What’s going to happen to our lakes, to our parks? Are our schools going to be overcrowded? They see the dollar signs behind the new high-rises going up and all the development. I think it’s on all of us to make sure our growth is sustainable.
The downtown plan, it’s amazing how much includes sustainable growth. The downtown plan includes a revitalization of the sewer networks and ground water treatment. It’s not sexy and in front of scenes but it’s an important feature to have. That’s what Ocoee needs to look at. What’s our plan? How we’re going to look in five to 10 years? What do we want our community to look at? I love talking to people and finding out what they want to see. That’s a key part of the city. How do you see Ocoee in one year, two years, five years? It’s a constant evaluation of things going forward.
Tune in on Monday, February 22, from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M. to hear more from Knox Anderson and all of the candidates running for city commission during the political forum hosted by the Woman's Club of Ocoee. Watch it on Ocoee TV Spectrum 493 or live-streamed at https://www.ocoee.org/197/Ocoee-TV.